Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jazz Nerd

I have officially turned the page to a new chapter of my musically-obsessed life. JAZZ. Oh yes. Now imagine me listening to this with big, glossy eyes, and an intense look of concentration. A whole new world has been opened up!

I am not a Jazz musician. I want to crack up with laughter as I write that, because nothing could be further from the truth. Here's why:

Sometimes you have to move 3,000 miles away to see how good your music education was. My high school, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, had a fantastic Jazz program and my college University of North Florida, had one of the best in the country, according to Downbeat magazine. Did I also mention I lived in the South for the longest part of my childhood? You know, that part of the country where Jazz was born? Still, I chose to focus on Rock, Folk, and World music. My attitude was "Let those Jazz nerds have their music. I don't understand it, so I don't care either way."

Don't get me wrong. I always loved me some Jazz playing in the background at Starbucks or a party, but I rarely got excited about the idea of going to a concert or listening to a new Blues album. I always felt like there was something I didn't hear that every other Jazz fan seemed to notice. Have you talked to a Jazz fan lately? They are more obsessed than John Cusack's Rock and Roll-obsessed character in the movie, "High Fidelity." I couldn't keep up! If you are ever in a conversation with Jazz Nerds, and you are not a fan, just prepare to be bored. The details they go into! The praise and worship! The astonishment that you don't get it!

So what did I do? I didn't get it, so I just acted like I didn't really like it. But how can I not like this stuff? There is so much to listen to. It's an A.D.D. musician's dream.

I think this obsession started when I began teaching my students how to jam on the Blues Scale. I was only teaching it, because it is a basic lesson that should be taught in any music class, but I was surprised at how amazingly fun it would be. What I hear in the blues jam with my students is how they personally hear music, and they're all different. What comes out of one student in a Jam (improvising session) is very different from another. Some students want to play sentimental music while others want to get up and dance. It's really quite fascinating to see their personalities come out with the help of Jazz.

I see it happening in my own life, too. As I learn more about Jazz in order to continue to feed this beautiful jazz-obsessed monster I have created in my lessons, I am also finding parts of my personality I had forgotten about. Something about these "Jazz" chords as I play them on the piano reveals feelings in me I once had as an idealistic, optimistic child. I find myself feeling like peace really is possible within us all. I know this, because when I play Jazz, or let myself get "hooked" while listening to a song, or when I immerse in a Jam session with another human being, be it child or adult, I feel a sense of "connection" with the rest of this world that I only really understood in theory before.

I write all this so you can see how ridiculous it is that I am now, JUST NOW, discovering that I can not only appreciate Jazz, but I feel an excited sense that I can understand it now. I remember a Jazz Nerd from my high school wandering into my place of employment at the time, which was a little bookstore in a shopping mall. He wanted to order some books on Jazz (of course) and proceded to bore me with all of his insights on Jazz and Philosophy and the Mysteries of the Universe. I politely discussed, but when he walked away, I will admit that my first thought was "God, these Jazz guys are SO out there!"

Well, funny how judgments can come back to you, I because now I have proudly crossed over to being a Jazz Nerd, but I promise that I will do my best as a teacher to explain it so you understand what I am talking about. Wait--- shouldn't make promises like that. If I've learned anything about being a Jazz fan from those who have come before me, it's this:

You have to experience Jazz yourself. It's a true inner journey. Let's start with some friendly Vocal Jazz. How about Nina Simone? 
Nina Simone - I wish I knew how it would feel to be free from Ambroise Kritz on Vimeo.


  1. Cool, Michelle. How great it is to keep discovering new things in life.

  2. It truly is. With music, there is always something new to learn.